By Hannah L. Torregoza and Richa Noriega
Opposition senators on Monday rejected the decision rendered by a Manila Regional Trial Court convicting Rappler Executive Editor and CEO Maria Ressa and former Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos, Jr. of cyber libel.
Detained Senator Leila de Lima, a staunch critic of the administration, said the move is but “another demonstration of the Duterte government’s weaponization of law against those who dare speak truth to power.”
“Jailing me for over three years now is only one of the thousand sinister ways they are causing fear in the hearts of Filipinos who fight for what is just and right,” said De Lima, who is currently detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) custodial center over drug charges.
“They will not stop at going after critics and human rights defenders. To them, journalists too must be silenced. But we will not allow it,” she stressed.
Senator Risa Hontiveros said in a separate statement on Monday that attacks on the free press and journalists are dangerous to the country’s democracy.
“First, they came for the journalists. We don’t know what happened after that. The attacks on the free press and journalists are a danger to our democracy and to us Filipinos,” Hontiveros pointed out.
This year alone, and while the country is responding to a global pandemic, Hontiveros said the nation has witnessed the shutdown of a far-reaching media institution and the weaponization of the law against a journalist doing unbiased reporting on extrajudicial killings in the country.
“Today’s conviction sends a chilling message to all: kung kritiko ka, pwede kang ipasara at pwede kang patahimikin (if you’re a critic, you can be shutdown and silenced),” the senator lamented.
“I urge everyone to speak out. Dumarami tayo. We are complicit if we are silent. Takot sila, kaya nila tayo pinapatahimik (They are afraid, that’s why they want to silence us),” she said.
Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan said he was not surprised by the decision.
“Under the current political atmosphere of repression and authoritarianism, it would have been a surprise if Maria and Reynaldo were acquitted. The silencing of critics and the attacks on the media has been going on for three years now,” Pangilinan said.
“And unless we stand up, speak out, and vigorously oppose the tyranny in our midst, their conviction will not be the last,” he said.
Former Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said the guilty verdict against Ressa is an attack against the country’s democracy itself.
“More than the obvious attack against the freedom of the press, Maria Ressa’s conviction for cyberlibel is an attack against our democracy itself,” Trillanes said.